By Biase De Gregoria – Partner, IQ Business
Over the last couple of years, one of the biggest challenges has consistently been raised during discussions and training sessions I’ve facilitated, is that business is typically removed from Agile teams and not truly involved in Agile adoption. Even though most do realise that this is a critical success factor, ‘business’ typically becomes properly engaged much further along in the transformation journey.
Over time, I’ve observed two factors that intensify this problem (among other contributors):
1. IT and Business are situated in different physical locations
2. A Project Change team operates between IT and Business, typically made up of Project Managers and Business Analysts. The aim is to improve the communication between IT and Business.
Part 1: IT and Business are situated in different physical locations*
In the past, best practice involved moving all the IT folk (including infrastructure) into a separate building. Upon visiting clients, it struck me that this physical separation is not only through the different floors or offices, but often people are kilometers apart. Martin Fowler discusses remote (distributed) teams in the following blog post, “the key point is the point where you find it easier to send an email than walk over to talk.”
I have often heard that a team classifies as distributed if its members are more than six meters apart. I recall situations where members of Scrum team(s) or business representatives would find any excuse not to travel to the parter-function’s location for a discussion or workshop. With the prevalent business use of technology such as instant messaging, and video conferencing, some teams try to work around this. As many of us know from experience, nothing can replace the value of a face-to-face conversation. Engaging with someone on a personal level, while observing non-verbal cues, allows for better communication, without fail.
One of the principles behind the Agile manifesto is, “The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.” Agilists have supported this through co-location – ensuring that the Agile team (Development Team, Product Owner, and Scrum Master) are located in the same physical area – optimally within 6 meters of each other.
On the other hand, I recently read a book by Scott Berkun – The Year Without Pants – wherein he describes how WordPress became the top performing global Content Management tool… and everyone in that team worked remotely. Most interesting to note is that the team’s most productive work, when they solved the most problems, was when the entire team got together in remote locations throughout the world.
Organisations may need to consider the full range of potential impact of moving people to a co-located site. Co-location has many known benefits, but there could also be some unintended consequences.
Example A team (with representation in different geographies) was forced to co-locate indefinitely. Being away from their families and friends for a long time had a massive impact on their personal motivation, which affected the team’s overall level of drive. There is a trade-off between having happy, focused team members, and the advantages of co-location. I recommended to the client to allow this team to remain distributed, and through that, reap the rewards of improved overall motivation.
If you are unable to co-locate teams, I recommend for the team to be co-located for two or three sprints while they are forming, so that the team can go through the necessary growth process to become a performing team (Tuckman model). After they have worked together for some time, they would have established relationships and built some trust across the team. It also allows them to create their working agreements and set up any agile tools more easily.
Whichever way you look at it, co-location is the driving force of the opportunity to improve collaboration and co-operation among people working together. I strongly recommend larger corporates to refrain from separating the location of IT and Business. By removing the physical barriers, you will enable a drastic enhancement in your teams’ communication and collaboration